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A Profile of Sierra Sciences and their Work on Telomeres

A recent long Popular Science article looks at Sierra Sciences and its founder, a group that has been working on telomere biology and its role in aging for some years. Alongside a number of other research groups, the Sierra crowd believe that telomeres are a lynchpin portion of our biochemistry and manipulating them might significantly extend life.

Make poor lifestyle choices, and you're likely to die of heart disease or cancer or something well before your telomeres would otherwise become life-threateningly short. But for the aerobicized Andrews, for anyone who takes reasonable care of himself, a drug that activates telomerase might slow down the baseline rate at which the body falls apart. Andrews likens the underlying causes of aging, free radicals and the rest, to sticks of dynamite, with truncated telomeres being the stick with the shortest fuse. "I believe there's a really good chance that if we defuse that stick," he says, "and the person doesn't smoke and doesn't get obese, it wouldn't be surprising if they lived to be 150 years old. That means they're going to have 50 more years to be around when somebody solves the other aging problems."

Telomeres, you might recall, are the frayed ends of our chromosomes, there in order to prevent problems during cellular replication - though more correctly they might be thought of as one portion of a more complex and regulated system that touches upon many cellular processes. You can't consider telomeres in isolation from the behavior of the telomerase enzyme that acts to rebuild telomere length, for example. Telomeres appear to erode away over a lifetime in many tissues, and their length in immune cells correlates decently with general health and levels of stress, shortened telomeres go hand in hand with increased cancer risk, and there's some interesting interplay between telomere length and levels of mitochondrial damage - both implicated in aging, and we might suspect these two things to be aspects of the same underlying process, though that remains a theory that can be argued either way at this time.

It would be hard to argue that telomeres are anything other than connected to aging - but are they a lynchpin that can be manipulated alone, in absence of other therapies, to significantly extend life? I am a skeptic on that count in the sense that I don't think the evidence presently in hand wholly supports that view. If you look at the most beneficial example of telomere manipulation in mice, a 50% life extension was achieved by combining genetic manipulation of p53 and telomerase levels together - but telomerase has a range of other potential effects on metabolism beyond affecting telomere length. I am not aware at this time of a study that categorically shows benefits accruing because of telomere length versus because of any other effects of telomerase - such as, for example, acting to protect mitochondrial DNA from damage, which in turn protects telomeres from shortening.

The bottom line for me is that this is certainly a line of research worth chasing further - there are a range of experiments that show benefits from telomerase therapies, such as improved immune system function, for example. But is the telomeres, or is it something else that's the important underlying mechanism? Either way, Sierra Sciences ran out of money for research in the end and now seems to be removing itself from the game through a mechanism we've sadly seen before, which is to get into bed with the supplement industry. I cannot think of a small company that has done this and remained a serious contender in advancing the state of medical science - the end result more often looks like the protandim debacle, in which whatever interesting scientific work once existed is abandoned and its echoes used to promote herbal compounds sold with a garnishing of lies. From the Popular Science article:

The stock-market crash of 2008 nearly wiped out two investors who had until then been his primary funders. Without the money to continue refining the nearly 40 telomerase-activating chemicals he and his team had already discovered, Andrews made the decision last September to cut a deal with John W. Anderson, the founder of Isagenix, an Arizona-based "network marketing" supplement company. This month, Isagenix will launch an anti-aging product containing several natural compounds that Sierra Sciences has verified to have "telomere-supporting" properties.

So you're basically looking at the genesis of another set of worthless products and magical thinking that apes the scientific method while rejecting everything that makes it work - just like most of the rest of the "anti-aging" marketplace. And beside that, another set of names who might have gone on to do good work will instead never be taken seriously again. Which is sad, given that they had a better vision of the necessary strategy for longevity science than most of the scientific community.

Comments

Two things about the transgenic p53/telomerase mice. First, it's worth emphasizing that these animals have both transgenically-elevated telomerase levels, and fortified cancer defenses via the elevated p53, which provides an itchy trigger finger to the shutdown or self-destruction of potentially cancerous cells. Mice that only get elevated telomerase levels get some benefits, ut also get more cancer, and don't live any longer than control animals. Second, contrary to what the abstract says and what is often uncritically reported, even the p53/telomerase mice don't actually live any longer than has been observed in genetically-normal, nonobese, well-husbanded animals in many other labs. (This is perhaps better-discussed here, but the link is not working at the moment for some reason).

The idea that even a WORKING telomerase-booster is a good idea as a life extension strategy is in my view quite unlikely, even ignoring the anti-cancer SENS strategy, WILT.

Posted by: Michael Rae at August 6th, 2011 12:04 PM

You’re absolutely right. We’ve witnessed what you’re talking about many times in the past. The natural product field, as well as the anti-aging field, is filled with quacks and charlatans – companies whose sole purpose is to make money will jump at any quick opportunity they can. Our sole purpose at Sierra Sciences is to cure aging. We’re very passionate about that.

We have been finding that natural ingredients are a very good source of compounds that can turn on telomerase, and Dream Master and Isagenix are very reputable supplement companies, unlike most of the others we've all dealt with. We are not going to end up like all the other companies that you mentioned. But feel free to wish us luck!

We always enjoy your posts, and look forward to reading them in the future.

Posted by: Bill Andrews at August 8th, 2011 3:35 PM

In this reader's opinion, it seems quite unscientific to assume a priori that a non-xenobiotic compound could not activate telomerase in a serious way. Such an assumption is idealogical in nature and reflects an unscientific bias. The question of dietary supplement (non-xenobiotic) vs pharmaceutical drug (xenobiotic) is scientifcally irrelevant. It either works or it doesn't, and there's no way to tell a priori until every relevant compound, natural or synthetic, is rigorously screened.

Posted by: Louis at August 14th, 2011 10:22 PM

It is VERY disappointing that Sierra Sciences is gone

Posted by: Toby at May 12th, 2012 2:08 AM

Dr Bill Andrews has stated several times in many of his lectures that there is no conclusive evidence that by increasing telomerase we can in fact slow down the aging process. He also states that until a drug can be made with the ability to turn on and off telomerase then there is no way of knowing if this is fact or fiction and that drug has yet to be made. Conclusion, products like TA65 and Product B is merely a combination of antioxidants believed to activate telomeres and or reduce oxidative stress with no scientific evidence. Bottom line - NO PROOF. Further more due to economic distress and the crash of 2008 his funding was cut off for him to be able to continue his work on telomerase and coincidentally it was around that same time that he and John Anderson of Isagenix decided to formulate a nutraceutical that took Geron Corporation years upon years to find but somehow Product B took no time at all and proceeds from Product B go directly to Bill Anderson. John Anderson is a great formulator and somehow the union between Dr Andrews and him was the magical missing link and then POOF the claims begin flying around that Product B can in fact increase telomerase. Funny how that all works. Dr Bill Andrews, I believe in the possibilities of slowing and maybe one day reversing aging but I have watched many of your lectures where you clearly state that until a drug can be made to turn on or off telomerase then there is no way to know,if at all, if it plays a critical role in longevity. So really Product B is simply another over hyped antioxidant sold to vulnerable people who don't know where to look for the right information. I look forward to your reply to this and hope you have some evidence that Product B is all that you say it is but like all these supplements I have not seen any data suggesting that Product B is anything more than a bunch of herbs that may have antioxidant abilities.

Posted by: Chester at December 2nd, 2012 2:29 PM

What is Louis talking about? Is sierra sciences gone? and is there any other major groups working on this?

Posted by: Ben at December 3rd, 2012 1:29 PM

I have used product B and have seen my body getting rejuvenated day by day, i do not need any probe and investigations to have a proof of its productiveness....

Posted by: Madhumita Chakraborty at March 28th, 2014 11:10 PM

I know Dr.Andrews can rejuvenate telomere's in the body forever if I give him 30m can he guarantee to cure all gentic diseases,and immortalize the human race? Why not if he knows what he is doing to rejuvenate the telomerase 's in the human body.

Posted by: Lee Silber at February 6th, 2015 1:24 PM

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